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'Jumping Genes' Found to Alter Human Colon Genomes, Offering Insights into Aging and Tumorigenesis
The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and their collaborators have conducted a groundbreaking study targeting 'jumping genes' in the entire genomes of the human large intestine. Published in Nature on May 18 2023, the research unveils the surprising activity of 'Long interspersed nuclear element-1 (L1),' a type of jumping gene previously thought to be mostly dormant in human genomes. The study shows that L1 genes can become activated and disrupt genomic functions throughout an individual's lifetime, particularly in the colorectal epithelium. (Paper Title: Widespread somatic L1 retrotransposition in normal colorectal epithelium, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-023-06046-z) With approximately 500,000 L1 jumping genes, accounting for 17% of the human genome, they have long been recognized for their contribution to the evolution of the human species by introducing 'disruptive innovation' to genome sequences. Until now, it was believed that most L1 elements had lost their ability to jump in normal tissues of modern humans. However, this study reveals that some L1 jumping genes can be widely activated in normal cells, leading to the accumulation of genomic mutations over an individual's lifetime. The rate of L1 jumping and resulting genomic changes vary among different cell types, with a notable concentration observed in aged colon epithelial cells. The study illustrates that every colonic epithelial cell experiences an L1 jumping event by the age of 40 on average. The research, led by co-first authors Chang Hyun Nam (a graduate student at KAIST) and Dr. Jeonghwan Youk (former graduate student at KAIST and assistant clinical professor at Seoul National University Hospital), involved the analysis of whole-genome sequences from 899 single cells obtained from skin (fibroblasts), blood, and colon epithelial tissues collected from 28 individuals. The study uncovers the activation of L1 jumping genes in normal cells, resulting in the gradual accumulation of genomic mutations over time. Additionally, the team explored epigenomic (DNA methylation) sequences to understand the mechanism behind L1 jumping gene activation. They found that cells with activated L1 jumping genes exhibit epigenetic instability, suggesting the critical role of epigenetic changes in regulating L1 jumping gene activity. Most of these epigenomic instabilities were found to arise during the early stages of embryogenesis. The study provides valuable insights into the aging process and the development of diseases in human colorectal tissues. "This study illustrates that genomic damage in normal cells is acquired not only through exposure to carcinogens but also through the activity of endogenous components whose impact was previously unclear. Genomes of apparently healthy aged cells, particularly in the colorectal epithelium, become mosaic due to the activity of L1 jumping genes," said Prof. Young Seok Ju at KAIST. "We emphasize the essential and ongoing collaboration among researchers in clinical medicine and basic medical sciences," said Prof. Min Jung Kim of the Department of Surgery at Seoul National University Hospital. "This case highlights the critical role of systematically collected human tissues from clinical settings in unraveling the complex process of disease development in humans." "I am delighted that the research team's advancements in single-cell genome technology have come to fruition. We will persistently strive to lead in single-cell genome technology," said Prof. Hyun Woo Kwon of the Department of Nuclear Medicine at Korea University School of Medicine. The research team received support from the Research Leader Program and the Young Researcher Program of the National Research Foundation of Korea, a grant from the MD-PhD/Medical Scientist Training Program through the Korea Health Industry Development Institute, and the Suh Kyungbae Foundation. < Figure 1. Experimental design of the study > < Figure 2. Schematic diagram illustrating factors influencing the soL1R landscape. > Genetic composition of rc-L1s is inherited from the parents. The methylation landscape of rc-L1 promoters is predominantly determined by global DNA demethylation, followed by remethylation processes in the developmental stages. Then, when an rc-L1 is promoter demethylated in a specific cell lineage, the source expresses L1 transcripts thus making possible the induction of soL1Rs.
Genomic Data Reveals New Insights into Human Embryonic Development
KAIST researchers have used whole-genome sequencing to track the development from a single fertilized-egg to a human body Genomic scientists at KAIST have revealed new insights into the process of human embryonic development using large-scale, whole-genome sequencing of cells and tissues from adult humans. The study, published in Nature on Aug.25, is the first to analyse somatic mutations in normal tissue across multiple organs within and between humans. An adult human body comprises trillions of cells of more than 200 types. How a human develops from a single fertilized egg to a fully grown adult is a fundamental question in biomedical science. Due to the ethical challenges of performing studies on human embryos, however, the details of this process remain largely unknown. To overcome these issues, the research team took a different approach. They analysed genetic mutations in cells taken from adult human post-mortem tissue. Specifically, they identified mutations that occur spontaneously in early developmental cell divisions. These mutations, also called genomic scars, act like unique genetic fingerprints that can be used to trace the embryonic development process. The study, which looked at 334 single-cell colonies and 379 tissue samples from seven recently deceased human body donors, is the largest single-cell, whole-genome analysis carried out to date. The researchers examined the genomic scars of each individual in order to reconstruct their early embryonic cellular dynamics. The result revealed several key characteristics of the human embryonic development process. Firstly, mutation rates are higher in the first cell division, but then decrease to approximately one mutation per cell during later cell division. Secondly, early cells contributed unequally to the development of the embryo in all informative donors, for example, at the two-cell stage, one of the cells always left more progeny cells than the other. The ratio of this was different from person to person, implying that the process varies between individuals and is not fully deterministic. The researchers were also able to deduce the timing of when cells begin to differentiate into individual organ-specific cells. They found that within three days of fertilization, embryonic cells began to be distributed asymmetrically into tissues for the left and right sides of the body, followed by differentiation into three germ layers, and then differentiation into specific tissues and organs. “It is an impressive scientific achievement that, within 20 years of the completion of human genome project, genomic technology has advanced to the extent that we are now able to accurately identify mutations in a single-cell genome,” said Professor Young Seok Ju from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering at KAIST. “This technology will enable us to track human embryogenesis at even higher resolutions in the future.” The techniques used in this study could be used to improve our understanding of rare diseases caused by abnormalities in embryonic development, and to design new precision diagnostics and treatments for patients. The research was completed in collaboration with Kyungpook National University Hospital, the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information, Catholic University of Korea School of Medicine, Genome Insights Inc, and Immune Square Inc. This work was supported by the Suh Kyungbae Foundation, the Ministry of Health and Welfare of Korea, the National Research Foundastion of Korea. -PublicationSeongyeol Park, Nanda Mali, Ryul Kim et al. ‘Clonal dynamics in early human embryogenesis inferred from somatic mutation’ Nature Online ahead of print, Aug. 25, 2021 (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03786-8) -ProfileProfessor Young Seok JuLab of Cancer Genomics (https://www.julab.kaist.ac.kr/)Graduate School of Medical Science and EngineeringKAIST
A Mechanism Underlying Most Common Cause of Epileptic Seizures Revealed
An interdisciplinary study shows that neurons carrying somatic mutations in MTOR can lead to focal epileptogenesis via non-cell-autonomous hyperexcitability of nearby nonmutated neurons During fetal development, cells should migrate to the outer edge of the brain to form critical connections for information transfer and regulation in the body. When even a few cells fail to move to the correct location, the neurons become disorganized and this results in focal cortical dysplasia. This condition is the most common cause of seizures that cannot be controlled with medication in children and the second most common cause in adults. Now, an interdisciplinary team studying neurogenetics, neural networks, and neurophysiology at KAIST has revealed how dysfunctions in even a small percentage of cells can cause disorder across the entire brain. They published their results on June 28 in Annals of Neurology. The work builds on a previous finding, also by a KAIST scientists, who found that focal cortical dysplasia was caused by mutations in the cells involved in mTOR, a pathway that regulates signaling between neurons in the brain. “Only 1 to 2% of neurons carrying mutations in the mTOR signaling pathway that regulates cell signaling in the brain have been found to include seizures in animal models of focal cortical dysplasia,” said Professor Jong-Woo Sohn from the Department of Biological Sciences. “The main challenge of this study was to explain how nearby non-mutated neurons are hyperexcitable.” Initially, the researchers hypothesized that the mutated cells affected the number of excitatory and inhibitory synapses in all neurons, mutated or not. These neural gates can trigger or halt activity, respectively, in other neurons. Seizures are a result of extreme activity, called hyperexcitability. If the mutated cells upend the balance and result in more excitatory cells, the researchers thought, it made sense that the cells would be more susceptible to hyperexcitability and, as a result, seizures. “Contrary to our expectations, the synaptic input balance was not changed in either the mutated or non-mutated neurons,” said Professor Jeong Ho Lee from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering. “We turned our attention to a protein overproduced by mutated neurons.” The protein is adenosine kinase, which lowers the concentration of adenosine. This naturally occurring compound is an anticonvulsant and works to relax vessels. In mice engineered to have focal cortical dysplasia, the researchers injected adenosine to replace the levels lowered by the protein. It worked and the neurons became less excitable. “We demonstrated that augmentation of adenosine signaling could attenuate the excitability of non-mutated neurons,” said Professor Se-Bum Paik from the Department of Bio and Brain Engineering. The effect on the non-mutated neurons was the surprising part, according to Paik. “The seizure-triggering hyperexcitability originated not in the mutation-carrying neurons, but instead in the nearby non-mutated neurons,” he said. The mutated neurons excreted more adenosine kinase, reducing the adenosine levels in the local environment of all the cells. With less adenosine, the non-mutated neurons became hyperexcitable, leading to seizures. “While we need further investigate into the relationship between the concentration of adenosine and the increased excitation of nearby neurons, our results support the medical use of drugs to activate adenosine signaling as a possible treatment pathway for focal cortical dysplasia,” Professor Lee said. The Suh Kyungbae Foundation, the Korea Health Technology Research and Development Project, the Ministry of Health & Welfare, and the National Research Foundation in Korea funded this work. -Publication:Koh, H.Y., Jang, J., Ju, S.H., Kim, R., Cho, G.-B., Kim, D.S., Sohn, J.-W., Paik, S.-B. and Lee, J.H. (2021), ‘Non–Cell Autonomous Epileptogenesis in Focal Cortical Dysplasia’ Annals of Neurology, 90: 285 299. (https://doi.org/10.1002/ana.26149) -ProfileProfessor Jeong Ho Lee Translational Neurogenetics Labhttps://tnl.kaist.ac.kr/ Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering KAIST Professor Se-Bum Paik Visual System and Neural Network Laboratory http://vs.kaist.ac.kr/ Department of Bio and Brain EngineeringKAIST Professor Jong-Woo Sohn Laboratory for Neurophysiology, https://sites.google.com/site/sohnlab2014/home Department of Biological SciencesKAIST Dr. Hyun Yong Koh Translational Neurogenetics LabGraduate School of Medical Science and EngineeringKAIST Dr. Jaeson Jang Ph.D.Visual System and Neural Network LaboratoryDepartment of Bio and Brain Engineering KAIST Sang Hyeon Ju M.D.Laboratory for NeurophysiologyDepartment of Biological SciencesKAIST
Rare Mutations May Have Big Impact on Schizophrenia Pathology
- Somatic mutations found only in brain cells disrupt synaptic function. - Schizophrenia is a neurodevelopmental disorder that disrupts brain activity, producing hallucinations, delusions, and other cognitive disturbances. Researchers have long searched for genetic influences in the disease, but genetic mutations have been identified in only a small fraction—fewer than a quarter—of sequenced patients. Now a study shows that “somatic” gene mutations in brain cells could account for some of the disease’s neuropathology. The results of the study, led by Professor Jeong Ho Lee at the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering in collaboration with the Stanley Medical Research Institute in the US, appeared in Biological Psychiatry. Traditional genetic mutations, called germline mutations, occur in sperm or egg cells and are passed on to offspring by their parents. Somatic mutations, in contrast, occur in an embryo after fertilization, and they can show up throughout the body or in isolated pockets of tissues, making them much harder to detect from blood or saliva samples, which are typically used for such sequencing studies. Recently, more-advanced genetic sequencing techniques have allowed researchers to detect somatic mutations and studies have shown that even mutations present at very low levels can have functional consequences. A previous study hinted that brain somatic mutations were associated with schizophrenia, but it was not powerful enough to cement an association between brain somatic mutations and schizophrenia. In the current study, the researchers used deep whole-exome sequencing to determine the genetic code of all exomes, the parts of genes that encode proteins. The scientists sequenced postmortem samples from brain, liver, spleen, or heart tissue of 27 people with schizophrenia and 31 control participants allowing them to compare the sequences in the two tissues. Using a powerful analytic technique, the team identified an average of 4.9 somatic single-nucleotide variants, or mutations, in brain samples from people with schizophrenia, and 5.6 somatic single-nucleotide variants in brain samples from control subjects. Although there were no significant quantitative differences in somatic single-nucleotide variants between schizophrenia and control tissue samples, the researchers found that the mutations in schizophrenia patients were found in genes already associated with schizophrenia. Of the germline mutations that had previously been associated with schizophrenia, the genes affected encode proteins associated with synaptic neural communication, particularly in a brain region called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. In the new analysis, the researchers determined which proteins might be affected by the newly identified somatic mutations. Remarkably, a protein called GRIN2B emerged as highly affected and two patients with schizophrenia carried somatic mutations on the GRIN2B gene itself. GRIN2B is a protein component of NMDA-type glutamate receptors, which are critical for neural signaling. Faulty glutamate receptors have long been suspected of contributing to schizophrenia pathology; GRIN2B ranks among the most-studied genes in schizophrenia. The somatic mutations identified in the study had a variant allele frequency of only ~1%, indicating that the mutations were rare among brain cells as a whole. Nevertheless, they have the potential to create widespread cortical dysfunction. Professor Lee said, “Besides the comprehensive genetic analysis of brain-only mutations in postmortem tissues from schizophrenia patients, this study experimentally showed the biological consequence of identified somatic mutations, which led to neuronal abnormalities associated with schizophrenia. Thus, this study suggests that brain somatic mutations can be a hidden major contributor to schizophrenia and provides new insights into the molecular genetic architecture of schizophrenia. John Krystal, MD, editor of Biological Psychiatry, said of the work, "The genetics of schizophrenia has received intensive study for several decades. Now a new possibility emerges, that in some cases, mutations in the DNA of brain cells contributes to the biology of schizophrenia. Remarkably this new biology points to an old schizophrenia story: NMDA glutamate receptor dysfunction. Perhaps the path through which somatic mutations contribute to schizophrenia converges with other sources of abnormalities in glutamate signaling in this disorder." Professor Lee and the team next want to assess the functional consequences of the somatic mutations. Because of the location of the GRIN2B mutations found in schizophrenia patients, the researchers hypothesized that they might interfere with the receptors’ localization on neurons. Experiments on the cortical neurons of mice showed that the mutations indeed disrupted the receptors’ usual localization to dendrites, the “listening” ends of neurons, which in turn prevented the formation of normal synapses in the neurons. This finding suggests that the somatic mutations could disrupt neural communication, contributing to schizophrenia pathology. - Profile: Professor Jeong Ho Lee Translational Neurogenetics Laboratory ( https://tnl.kaist.ac.kr/) The Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering KAIST (END)
Professor J.H. Lee Wins the Innovators in Science Award
Professor Jeong Ho Lee from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering won the Early-Career Scientist Award of the 2020 Innovators in Science Award. The New York Academy of Sciences administers the award in partnership with Takeda Pharmaceutical Company. The Innovators in Science Award grants two prizes of US $200,000 each year: one to an Early-Career Scientist and the other to a well-established Senior Scientist who have distinguished themselves for the creative thinking and impact of their rare disease research. The Senior Scientist Awardee is Dr. Adrian R. Krainer, at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory whose research focused on the mechanisms and control of RNA splicing. Prof. Lee is recognized for his research investigating genetic mutations in stem cells in the brain that result in rare developmental brain disorders. He was the first to identify the causes of intractable epilepsies and has identified the genes responsible for several developmental brain disorders, including focal cortical dysplasia, Joubert syndrome—a disorder characterized by an underdevelopment of the brainstem—and hemimegaloencephaly, which is the abnormal enlargement of one side of the brain. “It is a great honor to be recognized by a jury of such globally respected scientists whom I greatly admire,” said Prof. Lee. “More importantly, this award validates research into brain somatic mutations as an important area of exploration to help patients suffering from devastating and untreatable neurological disorders.” Prof. Lee also is the Director of the National Creative Research Initiative Center for Brain Somatic Mutations, and Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of SoVarGen, a biopharmaceutical company aiming to discover novel therapeutics and diagnosis for intractable central nervous system (CNS) diseases caused by low-level somatic mutation. The Innovators in Science Award is a limited submission competition in which research universities, academic institutions, government or non-profit institutions, or equivalent from around the globe with a well-established record of scientific excellence are invited to nominate their most promising Early-Career Scientists and their most outstanding Senior Scientists working in one of four selected therapeutic fields of neuroscience, gastroenterology, oncology, and regenerative medicine. The 2020 Winners will be honored at the virtual Innovators in Science Award Ceremony and Symposium in October 2020.
Two Professors Recognized for the National R&D Excellence 100
< Professor Haeng-Ki Lee (left) and Professor Jeong-Ho Lee (right) > Two KAIST professors were listed among the 2019 National R&D Excellence 100 announced by the Ministry of Science and ICT and the Korea Institute of S&T Evaluation and Planning. Professor Haeng-Ki Lee from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering was recognized in the field of mechanics and materials for his research on developing new construction materials through the convergence of nano- and biotechnologies. In the field of life and marine science, Professor Jeong-Ho Lee from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering was lauded for his research of diagnostic tools and therapies for glioblastoma and pediatric brain tumors. A certificate from the Minister of Ministry of Science and ICT will be conferred to these two professors, and their names will be inscribed on a special 2019 National R&D Excellence 100 plaque to celebrate their achievements. The professors will also be given privileges during the process of new R&D project selection. (END)
Deciphering Brain Somatic Mutations Associated with Alzheimer's Disease
Researchers have found a potential link between non-inherited somatic mutations in the brain and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease Researchers have identified somatic mutations in the brain that could contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Their findings were published in the journal Nature Communications last week. Decades worth of research has identified inherited mutations that lead to early-onset familial AD. Inherited mutations, however, are behind at most half the cases of late onset sporadic AD, in which there is no family history of the disease. But the genetic factors causing the other half of these sporadic cases have been unclear. Professor Jeong Ho Lee at the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering and colleagues analysed the DNA present in post-mortem hippocampal formations and in blood samples from people aged 70 to 96 with AD and age-matched controls. They specifically looked for non-inherited somatic mutations in their brains using high-depth whole exome sequencing. The team developed a bioinformatics pipeline that enabled them to detect low-level brain somatic single nucleotide variations (SNVs) – mutations that involve the substitution of a single nucleotide with another nucleotide. Brain somatic SNVs have been reported on and accumulate throughout our lives and can sometimes be associated with a range of neurological diseases. The number of somatic SNVs did not differ between individuals with AD and non-demented controls. Interestingly, somatic SNVs in AD brains arise about 4.8 times more slowly than in blood. When the team performed gene-set enrichment tests, 26.9 percent of the AD brain samples had pathogenic brain somatic SNVs known to be linked to hyperphosphorylation of tau proteins, which is one of major hallmarks of AD. Then, they pinpointed a pathogenic SNV in the PIN1 gene, a cis/trans isomerase that balances phosphorylation in tau proteins, found in one AD patient’s brain. They found the mutation was 4.9 time more abundant in AT8-positive – a marker for hyper-phosphorylated tau proteins– neurons in the entorhinal cortex than the bulk hippocampal tissue. Furthermore, in a series of functional assays, they observed the mutation causing a loss of function in PIN1 and such haploinsufficiency increased the phosphorylation and aggregation of tau proteins. “Our study provides new insights into the molecular genetic factors behind Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases potentially linked to somatic mutations in the brain,” said Professor Lee. The team is planning to expand their study to a larger cohort in order to establish stronger links between these brain somatic mutations and the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease. (Figure 1. Bioinformatic pipeline for detecting low-level brain somatic mutations in AD and non-AD.) (Figure 2. Pathogenic brain somatic mutations associated with tau phosphorylation are significantly enriched in AD brains.) (Figure 3. A pathogenic brain somatic mutation in PIN1 (c. 477 C>T) is a loss-of-function and related functional assays show its haploinsufficiency increases phosphorylation and aggregation of tau.)
Professor Ju, to Receive Grants from HFSP
(Professor Young Seok Ju) Professor Young Seok Ju from the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering was selected as a young investigator to receive research funds from the Human Frontiers Science Program. The Human Frontiers Science Program (HFSP) was founded in 1989 with members of the G7 and European Union to stimulate innovative research in the field of life sciences. Professor Ju placed third out of the eight teams that were selected from 158 applicants representing 60 countries. He is now the fourth Korean to receive a research grant as a young investigator. Professor Jae Kyoung Kim from the Department of Mathematical Sciences also received this prize last year, hence KAIST has produced grant recipients for two consecutive years. Professor Ju is a medical doctor specializing in cancer genomics and computer biology. He has been studying somatic mutations and their functional consequences in human cancer in a bioinformatics way. He has published papers in international journals including Nature, Science, Genome Research, and Journal of Clinical Oncology. With a title ‘Tracing AID/APOBEC- and MSI-mediated hyper-mutagenesis in the clonal evolution of gastric cancer,’ Professor Ju will receive 1.05 million dollars for three years along with Professor Bon-Kyoung Koo from the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology at Austrian Academy of Sciences, and Sinppert Hugo from University Medical Center Utrecht. Professor Ju said, “As a young investigator, it is my great honor to receive this research fund from this organization. Through this internationally collaborative research, I will carry out groundbreaking research to understand the pathophysiology of cancers at a molecular level.”
First Mutations in Human Life Discovered
The earliest mutations of human life have been observed by research team led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and their collaborators. Analyzing genomes from adult cells, the scientists could look back in time to reveal how each embryo developed. Research team of the Sanger Institute including Professor Young Seok Ju of the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering at KAIST published an article of “Somatic Mutations Reveal Asymmetric Cellular Dynamics in the Early Human Embryo” in Nature on March 22. The study shows that from the two-cell stage of the human embryo, one of these cells becomes more dominant than the other and leads to a higher proportion of the adult body. A longstanding question for researchers has been what happens in the very early human development as this has proved impossible to study directly. Now, researchers have analyzed the whole genome sequences of blood samples (collected from 279 individuals with breast cancer) and discovered 163 mutations that occurred very early in the embryonic development of those people. Once identified, the researchers used mutations from the first, second and third divisions of the fertilized egg to calculate which proportion of adult cells resulted from each of the first two cells in the embryo. They found that these first two cells contribute differently to the whole body. One cell gives rise to about 70 percent of the adult body tissues, whereas the other cell has a more minor contribution, leading to about 30percent of the tissues. This skewed contribution continues for some cells in the second and third generation too. Originally pinpointed in normal blood cells from cancer patients, the researchers then looked for these mutations in cancer samples that had been surgically removed from the patients during treatment. Unlike normal tissues composed of multiple somatic cell clones, a cancer develops from one mutant cell. Therefore, each proposed embryonic mutation should either be present in all of the cancer cells in a tumor, or none of them. This proved to be the case, and by using these cancer samples, the researchers were able to validate that the mutations had originated during early development. Dr. Young Seok Ju, first author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and KAIST, said: "This is the first time that anyone has seen where mutations arise in the very early human development. It is like finding a needle in a haystack. There are just a handful of these mutations, compared with millions of inherited genetic variations, and finding them allowed us to track what happened during embryogenesis." Dr. Inigo Martincorena, from the Sanger Institute, said: "Having identified the mutations, we were able to use statistical analysis to better understand cell dynamics during embryo development. We determined the relative contribution of the first embryonic cells to the adult blood cell pool and found one dominant cell - that led to 70 percent of the blood cells - and one minor cell. We also sequenced normal lymph and breast cells, and the results suggested that the dominant cell also contributes to these other tissues at a similar level. This opens an unprecedented window into the earliest stages of human development." During this study, the researchers were also able to measure the rate of mutation in early human development for the first time, up to three generations of cell division. Previous researchers had estimated one mutation per cell division, but this study measured three mutations for each cell doubling, in every daughter cell. Mutations during the development of the embryo occur by two processes - known as mutational signatures 1 and 5. These mutations are fairly randomly distributed through the genome, and the vast majority of them will not affect the developing embryo. However, a mutation that occurs in an important gene can lead to disease such as developmental disorders. Professor Sir Mike Stratton, lead author on the paper and Director of the Sanger Institute, said: "This is a significant step forward in widening the range of biological insights that can be extracted using genome sequences and mutations. Essentially, the mutations are archaeological traces of embryonic development left in our adult tissues, so if we can find and interpret them, we can understand human embryology better. This is just one early insight into human development, with hopefully many more to come in the future." (Figure 1. Detection of somatic mutations acquired in early human embryogenesis ) (Figure 2. Unequal contributions of early embryonic cells to adult somatic tissues )
Mutations Occurring Only in Brain Responsible for Intractable Epilepsy Identified
KAIST researchers have discovered that brain somatic mutations in MTOR gene induce intractable epilepsy and suggest a precision medicine to treat epileptic seizures. Epilepsy is a brain disorder which afflicts more than 50 million people worldwide. Many epilepsy patients can control their symptoms through medication, but about 30% suffer from intractable epilepsy and are unable to manage the disease with drugs. Intractable epilepsy causes multiple seizures, permanent mental, physical, and developmental disabilities, and even death. Therefore, surgical removal of the affected area from the brain has been practiced as a treatment for patients with medically refractory seizures, but this too fails to provide a complete solution because only 60% of the patients who undergo surgery are rendered free of seizures. A Korean research team led by Professor Jeong Ho Lee of the Graduate School of Medical Science and Engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and Professor Dong-Seok Kim of Epilepsy Research Center at Yonsei University College of Medicine has recently identified brain somatic mutations in the gene of mechanistic target of rapamycin (MTOR) as the cause of focal cortical dysplasia type II (FCDII), one of the most important and common inducers to intractable epilepsy, particularly in children. They propose a targeted therapy to lessen epileptic seizures by suppressing the activation of mTOR kinase, a signaling protein in the brain. Their research results were published online in Nature Medicine on March 23, 2015. FCDII contributes to the abnormal developments of the cerebral cortex, ranging from cortical disruption to severe forms of cortical dyslamination, balloon cells, and dysplastic neurons. The research team studied 77 FCDII patients with intractable epilepsy who had received a surgery to remove the affected regions from the brain. The researchers used various deep sequencing technologies to conduct comparative DNA analysis of the samples obtained from the patients’ brain and blood, or saliva. They reported that about 16% of the studied patients had somatic mutations in their brain. Such mutations, however, did not take place in their blood or saliva DNA. Professor Jeong Ho Lee of KAIST said, “This is an important finding. Unlike our previous belief that genetic mutations causing intractable epilepsy exist anywhere in the human body including blood, specific gene mutations incurred only in the brain can lead to intractable epilepsy. From our animal models, we could see how a small fraction of mutations carrying neurons in the brain could affect its entire function.” The research team recapitulated the pathogenesis of intractable epilepsy by inducing the focal cortical expression of mutated mTOR in the mouse brain via electroporation method and observed as the mouse develop epileptic symptoms. They then treated these mice with the drug called “rapamycin” to inhibit the activity of mTOR protein and observed that it suppressed the development of epileptic seizures with cytomegalic neurons. “Our study offers the first evidence that brain-somatic activating mutations in MTOR cause FCDII and identifies mTOR as a treatment target for intractable epilepsy,” said co-author Dr. Dong-Seok Kim, a neurosurgeon at Yonsei Medical Center with the country’s largest surgical experiences in treating patients with this condition. The research paper is titled “Brain somatic mutations in MTOR cause focal cortical dysplasia type II leading to intractable epilepsy.” (Digital Object Identifier #: 10.1038/nm.3824) Picture 1: A schematic image to show how to detect brain specific mutation using next-generation sequencing technology with blood-brain paired sample. Simple comparison of non-overlapping mutations between affected and unaffected tissues is able to detect brain specific mutations. Picture 2: A schematic image to show how to generate focal cortical dysplasia mouse model. This mouse model open the new window of drug screening for seizure patients. Picture 3: Targeted medicine can rescue the focal cortical dysplasia symptoms including cytomegalic neuron & intractable epilepsy.
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